Wicked Wednesday-Being a Good Panelist

Jessie: In New Hampshire, furiously writing the first draft of my next novel

The Wickeds have all attended conferences for years. We’ve attended panels on topics ranging from craft to social media to unusual poisons. Some of us have moderated panels and we’ve all been speakers. Today I’m wondering what your best advice is for being a good panelist?

Most of last year’s Best Short Story panel at Malice


Julie: Some of my panelist advice comes from being a panelist. Other advice comes from being an audience member. My best advice is to be an active participant. Listen to other panelists, and react. Smile (make smiling your resting face), nod, and listen. Be prepared (if you know what your panelist is going to say), but adapt to the conversation that is going on.

Jessie: Mine is to sit up straight and to have fun. Make eye contact with people in the audience. If you look bored or uncomfortable it will make the audience feel ill at ease and that is not good for anyone.

Sherry: Don’t take over the panel by talking too long. Everyone on the panel wants a chance to talk about their books too! And do stay in the moment so you don’t have to ask your moderator to repeat the question.

Edith: These are all good. Also: make sure you know at least something about your fellow panelists’ books, including the moderator’s, even if you don’t have time to read them. I was listening to a panel once where the best-known author on it slid in late (on a Sunday morning) and made a crack about how she was the only one on the panel who wrote about a priest/minister/pastor. The books of another author on the panel also featured a priest/minister/pastor. That was just poor form. Know who you’re going to be sitting up there with and what they write.

Barb: Being on a panel is sort of like acting–be in the moment, listen, react. The best panels turn into conversations. Go with, “That’s really interesting, let me add to that.” NOT “I’m waiting for you to stop talking, so I can talk.”

Liz: Much like what everyone’s said. I’ve found establishing a rapport with other panelists as much as you can so you can have a conversation rather than an independent series of comments engages the audience much more.

Readers: Experience with being on a panel of any kind? Please share. Help us be better panelists!

28 Thoughts

  1. All good advice. I’ll add another tip–don’t overthink what you’re going to say in advance. The panels we’re on are about mysteries, writing, and our own books and experiences as writers, all subjects we know pretty darn well. Whether you have the moderator’s questions ahead of time or not, there’s nothing more boring to an audience than a panelist who sounds like she memorized her answers or, worse, is reading them from her notes.

  2. Some great tips here! One added piece of advice that I try to accomplish (but don’t always succeed at): remember you’re there to entertain and relate to the audience, and not just pimp your books. The more fun and humor you can inject into what you say, the more the audience will respond with laughter, smiles, and nods. (and hopefully then go buy your books)

  3. As Sherry said, don’t hog the mike. If you’re lucky, you’ll have some rapport with your fellow panelist AND you’ll have a moderator who can manage the process without being intrusive and who knows something about your books. That’s the best case. Think of it as a conversation among friends, not an opportunity to promote yourself and your books.

    Worst case? I was on the world’s most abysmal panel at my first Bouchercon. The five people on the panel had no reason to be together, and it showed. One (guy) actually asked, “what’s a cozy?” There were 12 people in the audience (I counted–one was my editor) because Laura Lippman and Harlan Coben were doing a duet across the hall for a standing-room-only crowd.

    1. Same here, and at last fall’s Bouchercon. I was put on a panel about urban crime fiction. Huh? Luckily the moderator did a great job including me, and we talked about the village aspects of big cities and the crime aspect of small towns. But…really?

  4. As an audience member I would say that one should remember that this is your chance to sell yourself to new readers. I have seen panels where the panelists were so rude that I swore never to buy a book by them.

    As a former moderator I would say that if the moderator could also be a panelist then it is all right to talk as a panelist. If not, the moderator should moderate only.

      1. The only time I’ve ever been negatively impacted by a panel was at the first Bouchercon I attended. I was writing, but hadn’t had anything published yet, so I went as a reader. In one panel, a moderator hogged the spotlight from the panelists. Said moderator (unnamed for obvious reasons) talked about his or her own books first, ignoring the panelists for about ten minutes. I timed it. People walked out. Others were waiving their arms and pointing to the panelists, and sighing loudly. It was almost comical. Said moderator did his or her career no favor that day. I had read one of their books before. Now I won’t, on principle.

        I always notice when moderators try to shoehorn in their own books. Anything more than a sentence or two tends to affect me negatively.I’m much more likely to check out a moderator’s writing if they put their own ego aside, engage the panelists, and make them shine.

        BTW, Sherry Harris was the moderator on the very first panel I participated in, and she did such a wonderful job!

      2. I was in the audience at a Boucheron panel much like the one Barbara Early describes. Some great writers I was eager to hear, with one woman among them. The moderator was a woman, and she spent most of her time talking about herself (not even her books) and bantering with the guys on the panel–and completely ignored the woman writer. It was embarrassing (not that the moderator ever notices).

  5. If you are entertaining and engage with each other and the audience, it is more likely that people will buy your books. If you are doing a hard sell, then you have a room full of people who will probably not buy your books unless they were already fans.

    Which is just another way of saying that from an audience point of view I agree with what’s already been said.

  6. All good points. Whenever I’m on a panel I try to say something that comes out of the conversation rather than offering any kind of canned response. I prefer a dialogue with the other panelists rather than a series of formal replies to a moderator’s questions. A good panel makes me feel I’ve really been “in the moment.”

    And keep the book flat on the table, so the audience can see you.

    1. Good points, Susan – especially if you don’t have much real estate above the table, like me! It’s okay to hold it up when you’re introducing yourself, but then put it flat again.

  7. Great blog and excellent points. I think being on a panel is all about being in the moment and relishing a wonderful opportunity. And listening. To the moderator, to your fellow panelists, to the audience. A great panel flows naturally, with thought and humor. And if you do a blog on moderating, LMK! I work like a dog when I’m a moderator. I contact the panelists as group to establish a rapport. I read every book, and make lists of questions both general and specific that I share with the panelists for their feedback. And then when I moderate, it’s like being a director – managing the flow and energy of the panel, making sure everyone is represented. Moderators work hard!!

  8. All great tips and comments I can use for my very first panel coming up! As a frequent audience member, I’d like to suggest not turning away from your audience completely as you reply to or question the other panelists. So easy to miss a mumbled convo otherwise, especially for those sitting in the back!

  9. Thanks for the timely post. I’m also about to be on my very first panel ever, so this is all great advice! Now if someone could just come over to my house and tell me what to wear! 🙂

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